Sunday, October 29, 2017

Practice In The Small Stuff

Hey Friend,

I was getting ready to meet up with two writer friends of mine.  One by one, I whipped pairs of pants off their long untouched hangers.  This pair wouldn't zip.  That pair wouldn't snap.  I began tossing the too snug options onto the floor with utter frustration.

I hadn't gone out much since my 4th surgery.  Yoga pants had been my friend for the two non weight bearing months and the additional two months of virtual non activity.  The clock was ticking and the clothing options were running out.

About then, my daughter texted me on my slowly dying phone.  She was tired and frustrated after a slow and humbling first workout at the gym after a scary hospitalization.  I immediately wanted to text her back and say, "Be thankful you're alive and even able to get to the gym."  I wanted to point out the positive....the blessing, but I was struck by the irony that, as I stood there sweating from my clothing-fail temper tantrum, it would be like the pot calling the kettle black.  I texted back that it must be hard.  I validated her feelings.

How could I encourage her to move past validation to victorious thinking when, I too, was stuck in the muck?

At coffee, my sweet friend gave me a lovely journal.  Since I've really been dedicated to writing scripture that really speaks to me as I read it, I thought the journal would go to that purpose. 

Unfortunately, I allowed my delightful morning out to be spoiled once again when the screen in my car told me I didn't have a GPS.  I had used the GPS to get to my destination.  How fitting that my car was having a tantrum of its own - refusing to admit it had GPS mode.  By the time I reached home, after driving in circles, it was evident I still had a bad case of the "grumpies".

None of the things I had experienced that morning would stop the earth from spinning, but they had succeeded in their ability to stymie my gratitude.  God, in a grace moment, suggested that the best use of that journal would be to revisit a practice of keeping a "Gratitude Journal".  

It's a proven fact that Gratitude kills the Grumpies. 

Writing our blessings down acts to further solidify them in our mind.

I also realized that I had gotten lazy and if I wanted to be able to have an "attitude of gratitude" when the big trials came along...

I clearly needed to practice in the small stuff.

My praise and gratitude muscles obviously had gotten flabby and needed strengthening.  Complaining may feel cathartic in the moment, but gratitude is needed to go for the long haul.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8)

Whatever I dwell on....there goes my mind.  The more I dwell on my problems, the more I cycle downward, but if I choose to focus on what is right and good in my life, then so go my thoughts.  It's a conscientious choice. 

WARNING:  The enemy would like nothing more than for us to live in a state of defeat and despair. 

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Note that the scripture says, "IN" every thing give thanks, not "FOR" every thing.  When my husband left us, I did not, could not give thanks for that.  That would be crazy.  I'm also not so Pollyanna-like to think that in tough times like these that giving thanks "IN" the midst of heartache will magically make everything alright. 

I have to admit, it was very hard in those dark times to acknowledge my blessings.  I do believe God honors the periods of our hearts groaning and pouring out to Him in despair.  There is a season for everything.  

I think of David pouring out his angst before God in the Psalms.  David didn't pull any punches with God, but he did, however, end every Psalm with praise and thanksgiving.

I believe that pain, praise, and gratitude can coexist.

Gratitude may not magically make our pain disappear, but over time, if we keep continuing to praise God and thank Him for our blessings, we find our hearts begin to gravitate toward gratitude, joy, and eventually hope again.  This was my experience as I navigated those heartbreaking and tumultuous waters of divorce.  

But, I know that to be ready for the big stuff, I have to continually practice in the small stuff.  I need to choose gratitude over the grumpies.  

God, in His goodness, tells us to give thanks with a grateful heart for OUR benefit, not for His.

As I shift my focus from my circumstances to Him, as I give thanks, as I lift my eyes to the hills, then and only then do I see from where my HOPE comes from.

My hope comes from the Lord, but I need to practice choosing gratitude in the small stuff.  Only I can make that choice in God's strength.

Dear Heavenly Father, Oh how I need your supernatural enabling to be able to choose an attitude of gratitude.  It is so easy for my heart to become downcast and disappointed.  Help me to see that this is where the enemy wants me to dwell, but not where you want me to.  When small trials come, nudge me to grab my journal and write of your goodness and my blessings.  Let me, with gratitude, number your gifts one by one.  Let the words on my lips be ones of praise and thanksgiving- not "for" my trials, but "in" the midst of them.  Thank you that you are the lifter of my head.  Thank you for being my hope.  Enable me to keep lifting my eyes to your hills from where you come to me with grace and love.  In Jesus name I pray,  Amen.

How can you practice in the "small stuff"?  How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude?  Where are you struggling?  Can you ask God for His enabling to choose gratitude?

Be blessed.......

Monday, October 23, 2017

In Whom Does My Hope Lie, Really?

Hey Friend,

First, I have to apologize for not responding to the wonderful comments y'all posted on my previous blog post.  They really touched my heart!!  Also, to my blogging friends, I'm sorry I haven't been around lately to visit your blogs.  With all that has been going on in my life, I just needed to go "off the grid" for awhile.  Thank you for your understanding, love, and support.

With that being said, I have been reading through the book of Zechariah in the Bible.  This is not an easy book since it is filled with prophetic writing on the visions that Zechariah had.

One vision, in the fifth chapter, is about a flying scroll.  After some research, I discovered that the flying scroll represents the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  The scroll represents the Mosaic Law.

"I will send it [the scroll] out' - this is the declaration of the Lord of Armies - 'and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of the one who swears falsely by my name.  It will stay inside his house and destroy it along with its timbers and stones."  (Zechariah 5:4)

This is not a very warm and fuzzy verse.  In other words the Torah, or the Law (including the ten commandments) comes not to save, but to judge, condemn, and destroy.  

For this girl, who grew up in a staunch Presbyterian church, where we knew the ten commandments by heart, this might be hard to read.  I think as a young girl, I took on a very legalistic view of the Bible - kind of a "you follow the rules or else" philosophy.  

I've since learned, later in life, that God gives us commands not to squelch our fun and hem us in, but to set us free.  He knows what is best for us - what leads to abundant life.  If we decide to "color inside the lines" of His boundaries (his commands), the sweet spot in life can be found.

But way before I reached this conclusion, I looked at the Bible as a book of rules to be followed (impossible rules at that, I might add).  Many of them seemed set upon squelching my fun or pointing out my flaws. I viewed God as keeping tick marks on a giant score card for every time I screwed up.

This view further led me into very legalistic thinking.  And so, what does legalism do?  It goads you into trying to be follow all the rules to a tee.  Hi, I'm Bev and I am a recovering perfectionist.  I tried for many years to do so many things perfectly.  I was an expert at striving, having unrealistically high expectations of myself, trying to earn God's approval.  

The Bible talks a lot about having a humble and contrite heart.  Next to love, humility is the most touched upon topic in the Bible.  I realized that trying to be perfect and having a legalistic view of the Bible was not being was being prideful.  PRIDE - ouch!  What an ugly word.  

By trying to be perfect, I was in essence saying I could follow all these rules....somehow...on my own.  I could do it myself and therefore, I really didn't need a Savior.  

Denise Hughes says it so well in her commentary on this scripture:

"When God gave the Law to Moses who then gave it to the Israelites, the Law wasn't meant to save them. THE LAW CANNOT SAVE ANYONE (emphasis mine).  The Law serves to point out the fact that we cannot fulfill the Law on our own.  We cannot save ourselves.  So the Law points to our need for a Savior.

The Law judges us, and we are found guilty.  But Jesus paid the full penalty of every sin we've ever committed or will commit.  Because of Jesus' blood, we are now found innocent."

The flying scroll that symbolizes the judgment that will fall on every Israelite, will fall on us as well.

Part of me wants to say, so God sort of set us up for failure?  I don't pretend to know how the mind of God works.  I do know that He is mindful of our frame and knows we are but dust.  He knows that most lessons we learn, we have to learn the hard way.  He knows we don't listen well (remember Adam and Eve)?.  He is perfect.  His law is perfect.  He gave us free will and we chose to be sinners.  

Hmmm.....if I were God I suppose I would wonder, how do I allow my beloved children to see their own wretchedness? They are a prideful bunch.  

Perhaps when they see, through trial and error, that they can't possibly follow all my Laws perfectly, they will come to their own conclusion that they NEED saving.  They NEED a Savior??  It will be their choice??  Of course God knew all this in advance.  That's why He's God and I'm not.

That's kind of how it worked for too??  Or are you still on the perfectionist pathway of strive, earn, try in your own might to be "enough"??
Are you still trying to do it on your own?  

When will you ditch the pride and take on the cloak of humility that says, "God I can't possibly do this on my own.  I need the perfecting blood of your Son Jesus to make this right."

I have found as I lower my expectations on myself to be perfect, I lower expectations on those around me.  Phew....what a relief that is.  Humility builds and restores relationships.  Pride blows up bridges.  

Just like a blockbuster movie that will be coming to theaters near you soon.  The flying scroll will be coming to your house soon.  Will you fear its coming because you are trying on your own to fulfill the law, or will you have no fear because you rest in the assurance that your perfection can only come from knowing the Savior of your soul?

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for knowing, full well, that we are miserable sinners, yet loving us so much that you gave us your precious Son to be the fulfillment of the Law that we cannot possibly fulfill on our own.  You know what we need before we do.  Thank you for your lovingkindness and gentle patience that leads us to your heart of love for us.  Help us to see you, not as a scorekeeper, but as our Abba, Daddy who loves us enough to let us come to our own conclusions.  Help me to rely, depend upon, and keep choosing you as the Author and Perfecter of my faith.  I can't do life without you.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed.....

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ramblings On The Ebb And Flow Of Life

Hey Friend,

Three nights ago, my husband and I went out for a long overdue dinner date.  When the waitress, with the warm smile, asked if there was anything special we were celebrating, my husband and I just looked at each other and together we said, "Life."

We had come through two more surgeries for me, staring down cancer for the second time and beating it, shingles, a very scary hospitalization for our daughter, a job change, and several other challenges.  We were celebrating life and God's goodness in bringing us through all of this.  

My adult daughter and I have had a very strained relationship for over a year, but God brought us back together at the foot of her hospital bed.  When life or death hangs in the balance (and it did) you begin to realize what's worth holding onto and what needs letting go of.  Out of the ashes, God, who is in the business of restoration, is bringing beauty one step at a time. Praise.

The day after our dinner I was still on a high from feeling an immense amount of relief from the past several months.  I felt like I could breathe again for the first time.  I called my mom.  I knew her gentleman friend, whom I think the world of, was in the hospital and had a successful heart procedure.  I wanted to check in to find out how he was doing.  

I could tell in my mom's voice that something was wrong.  "They did a biopsy on a cyst they found in his kidney and his kidneys are in complete failure."  I realized I wasn't breathing, but was holding my breath.  She went on to tell me, with interspersed tears, that they brought him home that day and that Hospice had been called in.  It wouldn't be long. Wait a minute.  I thought he was going to be okay?!

I called him Sunday morning and told him how much I cared for him and how thankful I was for how kind and caring he is and how he has treated my mother so well for the past few years.  I told him what a blessing he is and that my life had been made better by knowing him. We chatted and laughed, but I knew it would probably be the last time I'd talk to him this side of heaven.  

When I hung up I went outside and stared up at the beautiful sunny blue sky with a hint of fall crispness in the air and wondered how I could be here, thankful to be alive, and he was lying on a bed waiting to die?  I was thankful that I knew He loved the Lord, but still, how can life vacillate like this I wondered.  The tears just flowed.  My heart ached for my mom who had lost my dad and now was losing another love in her life.

That afternoon, still with a heavy heart, I tried to get myself ready to go to a farm to table dinner with my son.  His girlfriend had recently broken up with him so he was still licking his wounds and I was the back up date.  I admit that my heart was sad and I just wasn't into going.

Then my son showed up, looking very handsome and had a specially picked bottle of wine.  On the ride, we talked about everything and nothing: girls, relationships, football, work, memories....for the 45 minute drive to an idealic farm setting.  

It was a very interesting mix of people.  Young, older, a couple from Brazil, a family from India; add in doctor, homemaker, research scientist, computer guru, registrar, farmer, clothing designer, retired vet....a real melange of society brought together to enjoy a delicious farm to table dinner.  

The candles flickered in the beautiful night as we talked about food (of course), music, cyber warfare and technology, home brewing beer (the farmer had a crop of hops), children, grandchildren, the story of how a couple met, different cultures, you name it.  

At one point I looked up and you could see all the stars against a completely black sky.  I risked it and said, "Wow just another wonderful display from an awesome Creator!"  Even the research scientist looked up and maybe contemplated a Creator God for a moment?

On the way home, my son and I turned on an XM radio station that played some of my favorite R & B music from the 80's that my friends and I used to go dancing to.  Well we had a fun little seat-dancing jam session in the car as we rolled down a country road.  

I texted my son thanking him for a wonderful evening. He texted back, "I had a blast mom.  Thanks for everything you do and have done for me.  I love you!!"  I went to bed with a contented heart, but woke up at 3 am. thinking about my mom's sweet friend.  

I went out and looked up at the night sky from our back porch.  There was Orion's belt constellation where it always is in the wee hours.  I thought of my adopted son in Christ and the Christian school I head up in the Middle East.  It was already daytime there, but I thought of how we are One under God's constant and loving gaze.  I thought of how their world is so much more terrifying than ours.  It wasn't fair.  Christians are being murdered there everyday and I am basically safe in my suburban bubble. 

I can't explain it all.  Life, death, the mix of people, the mess of people, joy, pain, celebration, suffering, trust, fear, peace, worry.  It's all part of this world.  I realize more and more that I am merely a stranger passing through.  I will get to experience it all.

But, God.  He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  He always was and always will be. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the great "I am".  One day at the feet of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.  We will see clearly what, up until then, we only see dimly.  One day all of this will make sense.  It will all be worth it.  Why? because God promises that it will be, and I know from experience that I can trust Love's heart.  

So for now, I don't know what this day will hold.  But, I go forward knowing He has hold of my hand with His righteous right hand.  I don't have to know where I'm going.  I just need to know with whom I am journeying.   

What about you?  Where do you turn when life just doesn't make sense?  Where does your identity and your security come from?  What are you learning along this journey called "life"?

Dear Heavenly Father,  thank you for being the awesome Creator God that you are.  I thank you that you have created all this for our good pleasure.  Help me to accept that I won't always understand the ebb and flow of life, but that I can trust that YOU are sovereign and you are in control.  I know you are good and that I can trust your heart when I simply don't understand.  Help me to love well the people you put in my path, whether that be for an evening or a lifetime.  Let my life arrow always be pointing toward you.  Thank you for your love, grace, and mercy that you continue to pour out on me.  Thank you for taking my hand, and the lead in my life.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed....this post in honor and memory of Herbert H. Luce (9.5.'31 - 10.16.'17).  You are loved and will be missed...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Is Control The Antonym Of Love?

Hey Friend,

Boy, have the pastors' messages at church been hitting me squarely between the eyes.  Today it really hit home that "love" and "control" are diametrically opposed.  

You cannot love and control at the same time.

I grew up in a home where love was shown, but not in my love language at times.  I knew my dad loved me, but I never heard the words, "I love you."  I was determined that my children would always hear those words and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were loved.  I followed through on that promise. 

I also tried to live out the words of Mark 10:42-45 by demonstrating the love of Jesus by serving:

42 Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. 43 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”[l]

I served alright.  I ran to practices, games, competitions, tournaments, parent-teacher conferences, play dates, sleepovers,etc.  I cooked family meals. I demonstrated a servant's heart, and I tried my best to raise my children to love the Lord and His Word.  My children would even, jokingly, call me "Bible Lady" at times.  I talked about "JOY" - Jesus first, Others second, and You last.  I tried to model the phrase "I am third."

One big problem, however, was that my husband and I did not have a good marriage.  One might even call it toxic.  I had OCD (an anxiety disorder) and the perpetual stress in our marriage just poured gasoline on the OCD fire.  

I thought, however, that a "good Christian" stayed in a marriage no matter what.  I was committed to my vows. I felt like by trying to make the marriage work through counseling and every means possible, I was giving my children a stable and healthy home.  What I didn't realize, however, was that subconsciously I was doing some things that were the very opposite of love.

1.  Since I did not feel love from my husband, I mistakenly looked to my children for love, appreciation, and validation.  Only Christ can fill this role. God's model in a family is God first, marriage second, children third.

2.  Since I felt like I had greatly sacrificed for my children's sake there were inadvertent strings attached.  Deep down, at a subconscious level, I expected something back from them.  My love was not unconditional.

3.  In my woundedness, I misused guilt.  Looking back I see how I guilted them and tried to manipulate in order to get the love that I was looking for so desperately.  

4.  Guilt, manipulation, expecting something in return.  These are all subtle forms of control.  And, the antonym of love is not just hate, it's control.  Love lets go.  Control manipulates.

When we truly love, we make ourselves vulnerable.  We give away expecting nothing in return.

These are very, very hard things to admit.  Especially when I know I love my children so much, yet know that I have hurt them.  My woundedness has caused them to be wounded.  What mother wants to do that?

But, the great Healer and Restorer.  Recently, I almost lost my daughter to a case of rhabdomyolysis (I'll let you Google that).  She could have died.  We have had a strained relationship for over a year, but two days ago, after she got out of the hospital, I really, really listened (perhaps, for the first time in a really long time). 

I obeyed Proverbs 17:28.  Somehow the KJV really does this scripture justice:

28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. 

Listening much and speaking little is a form of love.  I let my daughter verbalize the burden she felt from my OCD, the guilt I had dealt, and the expectations I had tried to exact from her.  It's a hard thing to hear this from your adult child.  

I won't try to wrap this up with a pretty bow like everything is perfectly solved, but I will say that, with God's enabling, I believe that I am taking baby steps toward truly loving my children in the way that God intended.  I am also, trying to give myself the grace and forgiveness that God has given me through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus paid the price.  I do not add anything to the equation by continuing to beat myself up for my mistakes.  

I am thankful that God is ALWAYS working to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives.  In His power, relationships can be restored and healing can be completed.  

Dear Heavenly Father, Forgive me for the times I have not shown love but have tried to control those I love.  Please heal the guilt, maniuplation, and expectation that I have looked for to fill my own selfish needs.  Help me to realize that your goal is to grow me into the reflection of your son model love like He did.  Jesus made himself vulnerable unto death. He gave love when His people shouted, "Crucify Him." He asked you, Father, to forgive them for they knew not what they were doing.  Restore and heal my brokenness, Oh Lord.  And, please restore the woundedness I have caused.  Enable me to love with a Christlike love.  In Jesus precious name I pray, Amen.

What about you?  Are there any people in your life whom you have tried to control?  Have you ever attached guilt, or expectation, or tried to manipulate in order to receive love?  If so, what is God speaking to your heart?  Would you share answers or lessons you've learned?

Be blessed...

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Monday, October 2, 2017

What Would I Do (WWID)

Hey Friend,

We've all seen or worn the bracelets (WWJD) What Would Jesus Do?  Thanks to my pastor, I've really been pondering the question What would I do? (WWID) He read to us a familiar passage of scripture.  I invite you to read it with me again and then we'll jump off from there.  

John 8:1-11New Living Translation (NLT)

A Woman Caught in Adultery

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”   (END)
I have always focused on the part where Jesus instructs the crowd, "Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone."
Immediately, I know I must drop my stone, because I am not without sin.  
But, I am convicted. I am definitely guilty of practicing throwing stones.
I may not say it out loud, but I am guilty of judging.  I may not say it to someone's face, but I'll say it in my head.  Everything from, "Look at her shoes.  She's way too old to wear shoes like that.  She looks ridiculous."  Or, "I could never do something that rude.  Doesn't he have any manners?"
To the adulteress, I might say or think, "I could never break my wedding vows like that and dishonor God."  Maybe I wouldn't, but you see, I was brought up in a home where my parents were faithful to each other.  They were married for 56 years when my dad passed away.  They didn't have loud arguments in front of me. I grew up reading the Bible. I was brought up to have a healthy fear of my parents and God. (Maybe a little too much).
But What would I do if I had walked a mile, or a lifetime in the shoes of the woman caught in adultery?
What if my childhood was terrible.  What if my mother or father cheated on each other.  What if I made poor choices in men and then was passed from one bad man to the next like an old shoe. What if I was beaten? What then?
I'm not justifying her sin as we are all ultimately responsible for our own behavior, but what would I be capable of doing if I was her?  Hmmm....
What if I had been the victim of child abuse or domestic abuse?  How might that affect my behavior?  What if I was left a widow at an early age, how might that affect my temperament? What if I was cheated out of an inheritance? What words might come out of my mouth? What if I longed for love and a spouse or a baby and was denied? What if a drug dealer was on trial for dealing drugs to my child who overdosed.  Could I possibly pull a trigger? 
The answer is:  I really don't know.  Does this justify sinful behavior?  Not at all, but putting myself in someone else's shoes, does make me wonder what I might do, how I might act, or even what I might be capable of. The truth is that hurt people, hurt people.
Asking myself this question helps to take me down off my high horse.  
Asking this question equals the scales.  After all who is to say that my sin is less than someone else's sin?  And sin is sin after all.
Asking this question, makes me want to extend compassion, empathy, and understanding rather than picking up and throwing stones.
I need more practice at extending grace and mercy and less practice at throwing stones....whether verbally or in my head.  
I love Jesus' last exchange in this passage: “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”  
No matter what our sin, when we turn it over to the Lord, He says loud and clear, "Neither do I condemn you."
This is where I shift to WWJD or WDJD (What Did Jesus Do?) He forgave...
What would I do if I walked in another's shoes and then what did Jesus do? what WILL I do?
What about you?  Do you ever find yourself practicing throwing stones?  What triggers this reaction?  What can we learn from this story?  Is God calling you to a greater understanding of others?  Is He calling you to not condemn them or yourself?

Dear Heavenly Father, Please forgive me for the times I have thrown stones either verbally or in my head.  Help me to first walk a mile in another man's (woman's) shoes before I even think of passing judgment.  Even if Your Word is on my side, let me think how Jesus would approach someone.  Let my words be filled with compassion, grace, and mercy.  Instead of throwing stones, let my words be a balm of grace to those who are hurting.  Let me not be quick to condemn....others or myself.  Let your grace be my grace.  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen. 

Be blessed....

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